Mow and Sow Workaround

Mow and Sow proved to be a good workaround technique when the weather didn’t cooperate and a Plan B needed to be strategized. 

When we purchased an adjacent 20 acres in 2015, it included a couple of planted prairies. Neither were planted with high diversity nor managed. Both were planted in 2009 and the one we named the North Prairie had been mowed like a lawn beginning in 2011. The other planting, Sunset Prairie, was virtually ignored and filled with weeds.

The North Prairie in 2007

The North Prairie in 2007 before it was planted in Jan 2008. The land preparation for planting was not thorough.

Because our goal for the land is diversity, we created a plan knowing it would take several years. In fall 2015, we burned it. In spring 2016 we sprayed with grass-specific herbicide to knock back the cool season grasses that were prevalent from the dismal preparation and the continual mowing. We then spent 2017-2018 removing weeds, cutting & treating woody resprouts, and reducing dense stands of cool season grasses, Indian grass, and Big bluestem. Following our plan, in fall of 2018, we burned it so we could overseed it. The burn was dismal and did not remove the thatch layer.

We needed a creative work around!

What guiding concepts did we draw from to spur our ingenuity?

  1. Seeds need good seed-to-soil contact.
  2. Many of the forbs in our seed mix require 90 days of cold, moist stratification to germinate. The best way to do this is in the ground. Other methods tried in the past didn’t allow for moisture or didn’t allow for sufficient air circulation.
  3. Grasses only require 70 degrees to germinate.
  4. Seeds will work their way into the soil through the freeze/thaw and snow/rain events of winter and early spring.
  5. Soil is a good insulator.

Mow and Sow was the solution.

We set the Kubota tractor mower as low as practical and hand broadcast the diverse forbs-only mix with each pass of the mower. I would mow a strip, throwing the grass to the right. Jim would follow behind me and hand broadcast seed into the mowed strip. Then I’d turn the mower around, mow the opposite direction, throwing the grass on top of the sowed area. Back and forth we continued until we had seeded the entire 3 acres with a diverse forb mix!

In early spring of 2019, we mowed again, in the opposite direction of the Mow and Sow technique. This mowing fluffed up the thatch, allowing sunlight in and helping it to decompose quicker. In April, we hand broadcast the short grasses, which were side-oats grama, little blue, prairie dropseed, and Kalm’s brome. 

The North Prairie in April 2019

The North Prairie in April 2019. We could only cross our fingers and hope we had the concepts right and nature was on our side.

By July 2019, the planting was looking good. The Mow and Sow workaround was successful! As I say, there’s “50 ways to right” when working with native ecosystems. Nature’s variables require creative thinking.

The North Prairie in July 2019

The North Prairie in July 2019

A drone photo of the North Prairie in July 2019

A drone photo of the North Prairie in July 2019

In Feb 2020, weather conditions were great and we were able to get the prescribed burn completed and the thatch removed.

A panorama of the North Prairie in July 2020

A panorama of the North Prairie in July 2020

We always worry and fret about new techniques and their success rates. Seeds are expensive and time consuming to collect, clean, and process, which makes failures costly. We are very happy with the results of a less-than-perfect work around. We hope if you’re faced with a similar situation, this will be helpful.